With studies showing that “the travel plans of over 90% of consumers were influenced by evaluations posted on online review websites,” it’s no wonder the hospitality industry faces an ongoing battle with fake online reviews, including everything from review blackmail and unjustified slander, to undeserved praise.
NB: This is an article from GuestRevu
There is even an underground trade in fake reviews written by seedy “optimisation companies” that offer their services to unscrupulous business owners looking to sway the rankings unfairly in their favour.
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Since this type of behaviour can be hugely detrimental to the industry as a whole, with guests becoming suspicious of reviews and the sites they are posted on, top review sites continually make massive efforts to reduce the number of fake or malicious reviews, and hoteliers and guests can also play a role in attempting to curb this ongoing problem.
How big is the problem of fake reviews?
Many hoteliers, restaurateurs and tour operators believe fake reviews are a serious problem in the industry, so much so that some have become dubious about the reliability of online review sites.
News stories about the prevalence of fake or fraudulent information on review sites abound. Prominent consumer watchdog site Which? has investigated the prevalence of fake reviews on Facebook, Google and Tripadvisor. In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a probe into the proliferation of fake reviews on Google and Amazon. There have even been anecdotal reports of fake reviews on Booking.com (here and here), which previously claimed to be immune to the fake review affliction, and hoteliers have claimed they offer little recourse for hotels whose guests attempt review blackmail.
In one experiment that made headlines in the industry, freelance writer Oobah Butler listed an entirely fake restaurant on Tripadvisor. He then managed to convenience enough of his friends to post more than 100 positive reviews and “The Shed” astoundingly held the title of number 1 restaurant in London for a short while in 2017!
While it’s initially an alarming story, The Shed shouldn’t scare you. Among other things, running the fake online restaurant was a full-time job for Butler – he certainly wouldn’t have had time to provide any great experiences for real guests – so this level of deception is not a viable option for real hospitality professionals, but it’s clear that fake reviews are a problem in the hospitality industry.
In a more practical examination of Tripadvisor reviews, journalists from Which? examined almost 250,000 reviews in 2019. They wrote that they had discovered significant fraudulent review activity amongst several well-known top hotels. The article was mentioned in The Guardian, CNN and the Independent, and prompted a renewed wave of concern over the veracity of online review sites.
The main indicator that Which? looked at to distinguish genuine reviews from falsified ones was whether the reviewer had any previous review activity on Tripadvisor. Properties that reflected a larger-than-normal amount of positive feedback from first-time reviewers were deemed to be dubious.